Who: No. 4 Ohio State (13-1) vs. No.2 Oregon (13-1)
When: January 12, 2015 at 8:30 PM ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX
There was a time when consistently competing for national championships seemed like a birthright at Ohio State. The Buckeyes played in three in six years, but after being embarrassed in back-to-back BCS National Championships was followed with egregious NCAA violations, the dismissal of a hall of fame coach, and an abysmal 6-7 season, many Buckeye fans wondered how long it would take to return the promised land of college football. If not for a bowl ban, Urban Meyer may have done the impossible after only one year with a team many thought were not ready, but fast-forward two years and Meyer has a team bound by adversity, knocking at the door of history, with a resolve no one is questioning.
Keys for Ohio State
Ohio State’s defensive line may be the Buckeye’s strongest unit, which may match up well against with what has been a patchwork offensive line for Oregon all season. Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington, and Steve Miller have combined for 50 tackles for loss this season, and the Oregon offensive line has given up at least three sacks in a game on six separate occasions. The Buckeyes must make the Heisman winner uncomfortable and limit the time he has to go through his reads.
If there has been one breakout player in college football from conference championship week to now, it has to be Elliot. The sophomore running back has accumulated 450 yards on the ground and four touchdowns in his last two games against Wisconsin and Alabama. More importantly, he has averaged 11.3 yards a rush in those games. Oregon’s rush defense isn’t nearly as stout as the Crimson Tide’s, and a big day for Elliot will mean keeping Mariota on the sidelines, while wearing down the Oregon defense.
The Ducks are +20 in turnover margin, so they will not be easy to come by, but the Ohio State secondary ranks fourth in the country with 24 interceptions. Although Mariota has only thrown three all season, pressure in his face and the lack of play-making receivers Devon Allen (injury against FSU) and Darren Carrington (suspension) could have the Oregon QB forcing the ball into tight windows, which would allow the likes of Vonn Bell and Doran Grant to make potential game-changing plays.
All the talk surrounding the Sugar Bowl was focused squarely on the coaching matchup, but not nearly as much noise has been made about Mark Helfrich facing Meyer. That’s because Helfrich is no Saban, and the sideline advantage in this game clearly goes the Buckeyes. Meyer is 2-0 in National Championship games and 5-0 when the Buckeyes are an underdog. What Meyer has done at Ohio State this year should already go down as one of the best coaching jobs ever, and if he pulls of yet another upset in Texas, it will.
I believe Ohio State matches up well against the Ducks, but Mariota has the type of talent to will his team to victory. This game may come down to a final drive, which could give the edge to an experienced (and supremely-talented) QB.
Ducks Win 45-42
Cover Photo: OhioStateBuckeyes.com
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